In today’s fast-paced ever-changing world, time is precious and of the essence. We are consistently multi-tasking and trying to be as efficient as possible. Checking emails while making morning coffee. Taking conference calls to and from lunch meetings. And let’s not forget the email you forgot to send before you left work. Now you are up at 10 PM sending it. Everyone is consistently trying to fit in so much during their workweek.
Let’s be honest for a moment. Who actually has a 40-hour work week still?
The answer is probably not many of us. Between early morning calendar checks, lunch time meetings and evening email catch up, we are all probably working 55+ hours a week.
Many studies have shown that 10+ hour work days are counterproductive and in fact do the opposite for employers and employees. After plugging away for 9-10 hours, fighting traffic and arriving at home for part two of your day, these next questions can rise.
- How can I be more efficient at work and still accomplish what needs to get done?
- Is there a way to be comfortable with less than 40 hours?
I want to introduce you to a good friend of mine, Monica. Mom of one with another on the way, she has managed to figure out how to live a comfortable life while working 25 hours a week. This was not an overnight accomplishment for Monica. She made scarifies, fought through challenges, and celebrated her wins to get her here.
Monica is from Columbus, OH. She has a Bachelor’s in U.S. History, a Master’s in Public Administration, and a Ph.D. in Education Policy and Evaluation.
Jemia: Describe your first job you held in your field?
Monica: Well, the first job I had in my field, post PhD (I actually began working 2 months prior to defense) was as a Senior Research Associate for a nonprofit social science research firm.
I routinely worked 40+ hours each week. The work itself wasn’t so bad but the structure of the organization left little room for innovation or policy advancement. What really made that job a drag was the level of micromanagement and the incessant demand to track every moment of my time for billable hours allocation. I hated that!
There was very little time to be imaginative or contemplative. No time to attend community forums and events to hear people discuss their lived experiences and to then take that knowledge and incorporate them into my work… It just wasn’t a good fit! So I made up my mind that I was going to leave within the first year.
How did you make the change?
I landed my current consulting contract simply by expressing interest to the CEO of a company for which I had conducted research for in the past, but on a smaller project with a very limited scope. He was impressed with my work and we cultivated a good relationship, so I relied on that to create a potential opportunity.
I now have control over my own schedule and work off of project goals and deadlines as opposed to filling every scheduled working hour with tasks. In this type of workflow, I have more time to think, strategize, and to innovate. And really, at this level, that is what I am and should be paid to do.
Consulting comes with no fringe benefits so I had to do a careful analysis to ensure my rates cover the things that are important to me; like healthcare and alternative wellness practices. Another important aspect to consider are taxes. Consultants pay self-employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare.
My time is of the utmost importance. It’s a nonrenewable resource so I regard it as more valuable than just about anything. If consulting doesn’t help me maximize both time and money, then it would not be worth it. I now make about twice as much working 25 hours a week than I did working 40+ hours per week. And by most accounts, I am probably more efficient and judicious with my time than ever before.
How does the 25 hours break down over the week?
It varies from week to week. I always schedule 2 hours on Sunday to prepare for the upcoming work week. That might mean reviewing key documents, ensuring my calendar is up to date, setting goals, or completing tasks that I don’t want to carry over into my new week. The rest of my work week is dictated by mandatory meetings, conferences/events, and project deadlines. I am not an early riser so I never schedule meetings before 9 AM.
You mentioned that now you work 25 hours, you have energy for things you value. How do you incorporate those values into your daily work/career routines? Work/Life Balance?
I have one practice that I think is essential, and it’s not so much daily as it is quarterly. I schedule quarterly check-ins with myself to examine how I’m doing physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I am honest with myself during this examination and I note anything that causes me concern. I don’t judge it, I just note it. And then I devise a plan to nurture the areas that need attention.
With work/life balance I ask myself a series of questions:
- Does my work matter and align with my sense of purpose?
- On most days, is my work stimulating?
- Does my work offer opportunities to grow new skills and interests?
- Do I look forward to work, even when I’m struggling to figure something out?
- Am I able to enjoy my personal life without work anxieties or commitments zapping my energy?
If I can answer yes to these questions, then I feel as if I have great work/life balance. If I answer no to any of these questions, I know I need to make some adjustments to reach better equilibrium.
For those who might not be ready for the 25-hour a week gig. What is something they can do beginning today to help reduce the amount of hours they spend in the office or working?
Two very different things come to mind. First, see if you can hustle up a small side gig. Treat it like you would if it were your primary job. Develop a proposal, negotiate the terms, and draft a contract. If you find that you really like being your own boss and can successfully execute the contract, then consulting might be for you and you should begin developing a portfolio of projects. That’s actually how I started consulting while in graduate school. A small project here and there…testing the waters while still either employed part-time or studying full-time.
Alternatively, you could talk with your current employer to see if they would entertain an arrangement in which you are rewarded for the results you produce, without regard for the amount of time it takes you to complete the project. This may mean negotiating flexibility around office hours, meetings that you are able to attend or decline (btw, I HATE unproductive, run-on meetings…avoid them at all costs!), or project scopes and deadlines. Some of these suggestions will only be possible if you have a company culture that values production and accountability over micromanagement. But if you’re still working in a draconian environment, it’s probably best to move on anyhow if you ever want to live a more balanced life.